Welcoming a new addition to the family brings joy beyond measure, but it's no secret that the path to peaceful nights can sometimes be a bit bumpy. Just as you're beginning to find a rhythm with your baby's sleep, along comes the infamous 4-month sleep regression, leaving parents scratching their heads and yearning for some much-needed shut-eye. In this article, we'll delve into the why's and how's of the 4-month sleep regression and offer some tried-and-true solutions to help both you and your little one find your way back to restful nights.
Understanding the 4-Month Sleep Regression: Why Does It Happen?
Around the 4-month mark, many parents notice a sudden disruption in their baby's previously established sleep patterns. This phenomenon, known as the 4-month sleep regression, is a developmental phase where a baby's sleep cycle undergoes significant changes.
During the initial months, babies have shorter sleep cycles with more time spent in REM sleep. However, around the 4-month mark, their sleep patterns start to resemble those of adults, with distinct stages of deep sleep and light sleep. These cycles last between an hour to two hours, during the night. After each sleep cycle, the baby’s body will come to light stage of sleep and often slightly awaken.
See the chart below to understand how it looks like over the night:
Now, if your baby falls asleep only by rocking or feeding, he or she will cry so you can jump in and give them rocking and/or feeding. On the other hand, if your baby learned the skill of falling asleep unassisted, he or she will just check the surroundings, and if it's all the same as it was when baby fell asleep, they will close their eyes and drift off to sleep again.
Sounds like a dream, right?! Yes, your baby can do that too!
It's Important to understand that, in most cases, the 4 month regression is not a phase that will pass. It is a developmental change, that requires learning a new skill, of falling asleep unassisted, in able to connect those sleep cycles without needing help.
How to prevent the 4-month regression from happening?
The 4-month sleep regression is a natural developmental phase that most babies go through, and it cannot be entirely prevented. However, there are some strategies that can help minimise its impact and make the transition smoother for both you and your baby. In my online 1-on-1 Newborn Sleep Foundations consultation, I will teach you step by step on how to gently work on setting your baby down to fall asleep on her/his own at bedtime and transitioning through sleep cycles more independently with NO crying.
Let me give you some tips on how to deal with the 4-month sleep regression:
Surviving the Sleep Regression: Effective Solutions
Establish a Bedtime Routine: A consistent bedtime routine signals to your baby that it's time to wind down. Activities such as a warm bath, gentle lullabies, and dimmed lights can help create a calming environment that prepares your baby for sleep.
Create a Sleep-Conducive Environment: Ensure your baby's sleep space is comfortable and safe. Maintain a cool, quiet, and dark environment that promotes quality sleep.
Daytime Naps and Adequate wake windows: Adequate daytime naps play a crucial role in preventing overtiredness, which can exacerbate sleep regressions. Remember, "sleep begets sleep". at around 4 months old, your baby should be awake for about 60-120 minutes. Shorter then that will create a short nap, while longer than that will lead to overtireness and a lot of crying. Follow a nap schedule that suits your baby's age, ensuring they don't become overly fatigued.
Feeding Patterns: Consult your pediatrician to ensure your baby's feeding needs are met during the day. Sometimes, sleep regressions coincide with growth spurts, leading to increased hunger. I recommend offering feedings every 2.5-3.5 hours during the day.
Consistency is Key: While it might be tempting to introduce new sleep habits to cope with the regression, sticking to your pre-existing sleep routines and methods is usually more effective in the long run. Find a sleep strategy that will work long term. Hint: rocking or feeding to sleep don't last.
Seek Support: Being awake at night might make you feel very lonely. Remember that you're not alone in this journey. Connect with other parents who are experiencing or have gone through the 4-month sleep regression. Sharing experiences, tips, and even a little humor can make the challenge more manageable.
If your baby doesn't sleep through the night by around 5 months of age, know that you don't have to keep with that struggle. In my online 1-on-1 Infant Sleep Consultation, I will help you bring peaceful nights to your home. I will help you create a comfortable sleep environment and establish a consistent bedtime routine. My holistic and gradual approach will introduce you to gentle sleep training techniques tailored to your baby's age and temperament, emphasizing the development of self-soothing skills. I will also address night feedings and provide emotional support for you throughout this process. I encourage questions and offer individualised guidance, ensuring a smoother transition to better sleep for both your baby and yourselves.
To sum up, the 4-month sleep regression is a normal phase in a baby's development, marked by changes in sleep patterns. While it can be tough on parents, with patience and the right strategies, you can guide your baby through this phase towards more peaceful nights. Stay consistent, offer comfort and pave the way for better sleep for both you and your little one.
Written by Orian Asor Halvorsen, a paediatric sleep consultant, parenting consultant and a mother, for BABY STEPS PARENTING & SLEEP CONSULTING www.babysleep.training / @babysteps.sleep.consulting